Working People to Death

March 18, 2015 | By R. Brendan Dummigan of Pickett Dummigan LLP

A new study released last week from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services (“DCBS”) showed that the numbers of workplace fatalities in Oregon is steadily climbing. 31 workplace fatalities were reported in 2014, the highest death toll in the past 5 years. A large percentage of the death count was found in the agriculture, construction, and transportation industries.

*It is important to remember that these numbers only account for the deaths reported by the workers’ compensation system. These statistics do not include the deaths of undocumented workers, independent contractors, and out-of-state companies. This report also excludes Portland police and fire employees and federal employees.

Although workplace fatalities have dropped since the 1980s, the recent uptick in fatalities is concerning. The director of the DCBS stated, “Although Oregon workplaces are safer today than in previous decades, there are still far too many preventable tragedies each year.”

The DCBS is correct. All workplace fatalities can be prevented. Even though a desk job is probably safer than working as a logger, a worker in the field has the same right to enjoy their life as someone who works in a cubicle. Given proper training and safety precautions, every worker has the ability – and right – to go home to their families and loved ones. Several rules, codes, and laws have been passed by our legislature and governing agencies to ensure that all our workers stay safe. Families are broken when these rules are ignored.

These sad statistics remind us to keep an eye out for safety violations and to notify supervisors when something is wrong. When violations do occur and a worker is hurt a result, that injured worker has a right to seek compensation for the dangerous activities of others.

Most workers will be able to get coverage under the Workers’ Compensation laws. However, those who are not covered, not covered enough, or those who are hurt on the job as a result of the negligence of someone other than their employer, may also be entitled to bring a lawsuit and get full and fair compensation for their injuries.

The people who need protection the most are often subcontractors, independent contractors, and undocumented workers. These individuals are often assigned dangerous tasks and left without the protections afforded by the Workers’ Compensation laws. When they get hurt, their only source of compensation may be through the civil legal system.

The courtroom is meant to be a safety net for injured workers when their employers or contractors fail to follow proper safety rules. Through the combined efforts of workers, employers, and our juries, we can make a statement that workplace fatalities and serious injuries are unnecessary and unacceptable and make sure that the future is safer for everyone.